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in Filmmaking
on Nov 26, 2008

Over at Ted Hope’s Truly Free Film blog, Dan Cogan, producer and financier (his Impact Partners funds socially-relevant docs and features) posts advice for filmmakers who may, depending on a phone call they get this week, be looking to leverage the boost that a Sundance selection will bring them. Interestingly, the piece is titled “What Financiers Want Now,” suggesting a shift in the desired rhetoric of an indie film pitch. Rather than endorse the traditional high-risk/high-reward model of most indie-film business plans, Cogan and his company emphasize the filmmaker’s ability to mobilize the multiple smaller revenue streams that arise from a grass-roots strategy.

Reading Dan’s post I thought of how truly different it is today for a filmmaker heading to Park City as compared to ten years ago. Sundance has always been a crap shoot — a sizable percentage of films have always gone un-or-underdistributed. But for most films, the “Plan B” of self-distribution was a strategy that one arrived at six months after the festival. Today, many filmmakers would be best served by thinking about these issues before they hit Main Street, and doing so involves shifting priorities. Such traditional Sundance activities as postering Main Street, booking a party at the Riverhorse, and spending all one’s money on a traditional publicist may need to be augmented (or, depending on one’s budget, replaced) by activities that use a film’s Sundance presence as a launching pad for a grass-roots strategy. Dan’s post has several great pieces of advice, and while they are framed by the pre-Sundance story, they are just as relevant to many if not most filmmakers who aren’t making the trek to Utah.

Here is an excerpt. Read the complete article at the link above.

It strikes me that this is a particularly important moment in the indie film calendar for the Truly Free Film movement. Films are being quietly notified about acceptances to Sundance. It’s a moment of excitement for filmmakers and financiers alike.

And so right now it’s especially important to remember that the great fairy tale sale is only going to happen to a few films. The rest will have to take the great boost of Sundance and turn it into something for themselves.

There has never been a better moment for filmmakers to do this, especially doc filmmakers who do social-issue films, which is mostly what we finance. But they have to know what they’re doing, and they have to be passionate and devoted to outreach as much as to filmmaking. When we finance a film, here are some of the things we look for:

1) Once we like a project, we want to know, Does the filmmaker have a plan for outreach to get to the film’s natural audience? In the age of DVD, streaming, download-to-own, etc., outreach around social issues related to your film has become deeply intertwined with distribution. Most docs, even great docs, may not be theatrical, but they can have huge potential for direct sales over the web to audiences who are part of a political or social community that the film addresses.

2) Don’t worry about preaching to the choir. Yes, it’s always nice to reach new audiences. But if Barack Obama’s campaign proved anything, it’s how powerful you can be if you really inspire your base. If you can turn people who care about an issue into people who will take the time to knock on doors, make calls, donate money, and ACT on their values, you can have a huge impact. The irony is, of course, that this preaching-to-the-choir passion you create can spill over from your core audience to infect completely new communities.

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